Home arrow Site Administration arrow Page 2 - Customizing the User Environment in BSD

Hack 2: Useful tcsh Shell Configuration File Options - Administration

If you use an open source operating system, you probably have a few favorite hacks that you like to apply to make things run more smoothly. This article, the first of three parts, focuses on some good hacks for customizing the user environment. It is excerpted from chapter one of the book BSD Hacks, written by Dru Lavigne (Copyright © 2005 O'Reilly Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission from the publisher. Available from booksellers or direct from O'Reilly Media; ISBN: 0596006799).

  1. Customizing the User Environment in BSD
  2. Hack 2: Useful tcsh Shell Con
  3. Hack 3: Create Shell Bindings
  4. Hack 4: Use Terminal and X Bindings
By: O'Reilly Media
Rating: starstarstarstarstar / 4
December 07, 2006

print this article



Make the shell a friendly place to work in.

Now that youíve had a chance to make friends with the shell, letís use its configuration file to create an environment youíll enjoy working in. Your prompt is an excellent place to start.

Making Your Prompt More Useful

The defaulttcshprompt displays%when youíre logged in as a regular user andhostname#when youíre logged in as the superuser. Thatís a fairly useful way to figure out who youíre logged in as, but we can do much better than that.

Each user on the system, including the superuser, has a .cshrc file in his home directory. Here are my current prompt settings:

  dru@~:grep prompt ~/.cshrc
if ($?prompt) then
          set prompt = "
%B%n@%~%b: "

That isnít the defaulttcshprompt, as Iíve been using my favorite customized prompt for the past few years. The possible prompt formatting sequences are easy to understand if you have a list of possibilities in front of you. That list is buried deeply withinman cshrc, so hereís a quick way to zero in on it:

  dru@~:man cshrc
  /prompt may include

Here Iíve used the / to invoke the manpage search utility. The search string prompt may include brings you to the right section, and is intuitive enough that even my rusty old brain can remember it.

If you compare the formatting sequences shown in the manpage to my prompt string, it reads as follows:

  set prompt = "%B%n@%~%b: "

Thatís a little dense. Table 1-1 dissects the options.

Table 1-1. Prompt characters




Starts the prompt string.


Turns on bold.


Shows the login name in the prompt.


I use this as a separator to make my prompt more visually appealing.

Table 1-1. Prompt characters (continued)




Shows the current working directory. It results in a shorter prompt than %/, as my home directory is shortened from /usr/home/myusername to ~


Turns off bold.


Again, this is an extra character I use to separate my prompt from the cursor.


Ends the prompt string.

With this prompt, I always know who I am and where I am. If I also needed to know what machine I was logged into (useful for remote administration), I could also include %M or %m somewhere within the prompt string.

The superuser's .cshrc file (in /root, the superuser's home directory has an identical prompt string. This is very fortunate, as it reveals something you might not know about the su command, which is used to switch users. Right now Iím logged in as the user dru and my prompt looks like this:


Watch the shell output carefully after I use su to switch to the root user:

  dru@/usr/ports/net/ethereal: su

Things seem even more confusing if I use the whoami command:

  dru@/usr/ports/net/ethereal: whoami

However, the id command doesnít lie:

  dru@/usr/ports/net/ethereal: id
uid=0(root) gid=0(wheel) groups=0(wheel), 5(operator)

It turns out that the default invocation of su doesn't actually log you in as the superuser. It simply gives you superuser privileges while retaining your original login shell.

If you really want to log in as the superuser, include the login (-l) switch:

  dru@/usr/ports/net/ethereal: su -l 
  root@~: whoami
  root@~: id
uid=0(root) gid=0(wheel) groups=0(wheel), 5(operator)

I highly recommend you take some time to experiment with the various formatting sequences and hack a prompt that best meets your needs. You can add other features, including customized time and date strings and command history numbers [Hack #1], as well as flashing or underlining the prompt.

Setting Shell Variables

Your prompt is an example of a shell variable. There are dozens of other shell variables you can set in .cshrc. My trick for finding the shell variables section in the manpage is:

  dru@~:man cshrc
  /variables described

As the name implies, shell variables affect only the commands that are built into the shell itself. Donít confuse these with environment variables, which affect your entire working environment and every command you invoke.

If you take a look at your ~/.cshrc file, environment variables are the ones written in uppercase and are preceded with the setenv command. Shell variables are written in lowercase and are preceded with the set command.

You can also enable a shell variable by using thesetcommand at your command prompt. (Useunsetto disable it.) Since the variable affects only your current login session and its children, you can experiment with setting and unsetting variables to your heartís content. If you get into trouble, log out of that session and log in again.

If you find a variable you want to keep permanently, add it to your ~/.cshrc file in the section that contains the defaultsetcommands. Letís take a look at some of the most useful ones.

If you enjoyed Ctrl-d from ďGet the Most Out of the Default ShellĒ [Hack #1], youíll like this even better:

  set autolist

Now whenever you use the Tab key and the shell isnít sure what you want, it wonít beep at you. Instead, the shell will show you the applicable possibilities. You donít even have to press Ctrl-d first!

The next variable might save you from possible future peril:

  set rmstar

Iíll test this variable by quickly making a test directory and some files:

  dru@~:mkdir test
  dru@~:cd test
  dru@~/test:touch a b c d e

Then, Iíll try to remove the files from that test directory:

  dru@~/test:rm *
 Do you really want to delete all files? [n/y]

Since my prompt tells me what directory Iím in, this trick gives me one last chance to double-check that I really am deleting the files I want to delete.

If youíre prone to typos, consider this one:

  set correct=all

This is how the shell will respond to typos at the command line:

  dru@~:cd /urs/ports 
  CORRECT>cd /usr/ports (y|n|e|a)?

Pressingywill correct the spelling and execute the command. Pressingnwill execute the misspelled command, resulting in an error message. If I presse, I can edit my command (although, in this case, it would be much quicker for the shell to go with its correct spelling). And if I completely panic at the thought of all of these choices, I can always pressato abort and just get my prompt back.

If you like to save keystrokes, try:

  set implicitcd

Youíll never have to typecdagain. Instead, simply type the name of the directory and the shell will assume you want to go there.

>>> More Site Administration Articles          >>> More By O'Reilly Media

blog comments powered by Disqus
escort Bursa Bursa escort Antalya eskort


- Coding: Not Just for Developers
- To Support or Not Support IE?
- Administration: Networking OSX and Win 7
- DotNetNuke Gets Social
- Integrating MailChimp with Joomla: Creating ...
- Integrating MailChimp with Joomla: List Mana...
- Integrating MailChimp with Joomla: Building ...
- Integrating MailChimp with Joomla
- More Top WordPress Plugins for Social Media
- Optimizing Security: SSH Public Key Authenti...
- Patches and Rejects in Software Configuratio...
- Configuring a CVS Server
- Managing Code and Teams for Cross-Platform S...
- Software Configuration Management
- Back Up a Joomla Site with Akeeba Backup

Developer Shed Affiliates


Dev Shed Tutorial Topics: